There’s a certain nostalgia for the days of small breweries, where the same group of people would gather around a wooden table, order a pint and debrief about the latest in the neighborhood. For a while, D.C. didn’t have a space like this, despite the picture we paint of early politicians commiserating and debating in a candlelit brewery. Our claim to fame was the Christian Heurich Brewing Company — the only brewery in the District to survive Prohibition — which closed its doors in 1956. After that, our shelves were full of beer made elsewhere.
Enter: DC Brau. Founders Brandon Skall, Jeff Hancock and Mari Rodela saw an empty slot on grocery store shelves they figured belonged to D.C.-made beer. With backgrounds in brewing and wine distribution, the founders shared a vision for their local brewery centered around building that long-lost spirit of neighborhood community.
Their Northeast location provides a space for people to gather and drink. It also serves as DC Brau’s headquarters for brewing, canning and distributing their innovative and award-winning beers and seltzers.
“Our first year we did about 1600 barrels of beer,” Skall says. “And at our peak before the pandemic, we did 16,000. It was a rapid scaling while being a part of a beer scene that’s developing and growing here in Washington.”
Their beers pay tribute to different aspects of D.C., with names like Joint Resolution and The Corruption as a nod to the downtown, political side of the city. There’s also the Langston Lager, ¡Wild Funk! and one-off specialty beers intended to reflect the rest of the District’s unique and diverse citizens.
“We want our branding to reflect the ‘two D.C.s’ idea,” Skall says. “We wanted to get the message out that D.C. is more than the capital of the country. There is a great culture in D.C., and it’s always been here.”
Skall says there aren’t many goods actually manufactured within the District. D.C.’s lack of breweries is just one example.
“But now, we’ve got one of the highest amounts of breweries per capita,” Skall says. “There’s a great booming beer culture here.”
The beer scene grew after DC Brau opened, with Chocolate City (now closed), 3 Stars (closed after a 10-year run) and Atlas following close behind. Skall says there was a lot of interest in supporting locally-made beer — kind of a “If you build it, they will come” type response, with many residents proud of their hometown doing the work to represent itself. Now, you’ll see DC Brau on tap in many restaurants across the District.
On Sundays this summer, residents can also find DC Brau hosting a concert series called Dock Days of Summer. After the success of last year’s series under the same name, Dock Days is excited to be back, providing beers and house-made slushies, both alcoholic and nonalcoholic, with a new band headlining each week.
“We’ve always been aligned with music,” Skall says. “Our five-year anniversary was a big heavy metal fest, so we thought, ‘Hey, let’s do a very diverse musical spread.’”
In August, they’ll host a go-go band, a Grateful Dead cover band, a reggae band and others. The series will continue throughout October to make the most of local talent and prolong outdoor gatherings for residents.
DC Brau also focuses on supporting local nonprofits to strengthen the District in other ways, including working with libraries, voting organizations, LGBTQ+ groups, arts groups and cemeteries.
“It would be disingenuous to have D.C. in our name and not do what we can to make the city the best it can be,” Skall says. “I’ve always felt D.C. people are proud of their culture and history. They get D.C. tattoos, they’ve got the flag everywhere and it’s also pretty punk rock we’ve got these ‘taxation without representation’ license plates. Giving folks something that’s from D.C. that they can be proud of and take ownership of is huge.”
Though it may look different than the low-lit breweries of decades past, DC Brau is here to bring neighborhoods together, celebrate all things D.C. and raise a glass to what’s to come.